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Home Food The real deal: 20 places to eat iconic, authentic, honest-to-goodness American dishes

The real deal: 20 places to eat iconic, authentic, honest-to-goodness American dishes

The best stops for regional delights from Maine lobster rolls to Rocky Mountain oysters.
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Fish tacos and beer at Pacific Beach Fish Shop // Paul Body for DRAFT

Fish tacos and beer at Pacific Beach Fish Shop // Paul Body for DRAFT

When you’re in Philly, you’re going to eat cheesesteak, and when you’re on Fisherman’s Wharf, you’re going to eat seafood. But how do you know you’re not falling face-first into a tourist trap of subpar, knockoff nosh? We posed that question to insiders around the country who shared their secrets to iconic food experiences in their towns. Prepare to dine your way across America at these 20 places that serve touristy eats with a side of local cred.

THE BEST FISH TACOS IN SAN DIEGO: Pacific Beach Fish Shop
“It’s only a few miles away from our Pacific Beach production brewery, and they’ve got epic fish tacos! They have about 10 different kinds of fresh fish to choose from including mango mahi mahi, blackened swordfish, grilled albacore, lobster, scallops, shrimp, etc. The house seasoning they use on the tacos is amazing. Put some lemon and fresh avocado on there too… man! And, they’ve got a good selection of Karl Strauss beers to pair with those tacos.  Hands-down the best in San Diego. Now I’m hungry thinking about it.”
–Paul Segura, brewmaster, Karl Strauss Brewing; lifelong San Diegan

THE BEST HOT CHICKEN IN NASHVILLE: Prince’s Hot Chicken
“There are so many great hot chicken spots in Nashville, hence the Hot Chicken Festival. However, I’m gonna to have to pick the oldest gig in town, Prince’s, as my favorite. There’s so much history there.”
–Carla Hall, chef and co-host, ABC’s “The Chew”

THE BEST PASTRAMI SANDWICH IN NEW YORK: Katz’s Delicatessen
“For me, the best, the classic and still the greatest pastrami sandwich in New York City is at Katz’s Delicatessen. The atmosphere is like no other; it’s a real throwback to the turn of the 20th century in this big, loud, iconic room that has a cross-section of everyone in New York City: cops, firemen, gangsters, business people, tourists; everyone waits in the same line. It’s very democratic and loud and aggressive and friendly and beautiful… You want the meat fatty, because fat is where the flavor is, and it provides the moisture; a lean sandwich is very dry. You’ll also want a good coating of spices, a real dark black crust with spice… I have it on rye with mustard; anything else is messing with success.”
–David Sax, journalist and author, “Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen”

THE BEST BUFFET IN VEGAS: Wicked Spoon at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
“I have really bad food ADD and want to try everything at once, so I like how each section is broken down to help guide me through where to eat. They’ve got an antipasto bar with olives and cheeses; I love that stuff! I get five or six plates and do one section at a time.”
–Chelsea Bakken, performer, Le Rêve at Wynn Las Vegas

THE BEST ROCKY MOUNTAIN OYSTERS IN DENVER: The Buckhorn Exchange
“If you aren’t going to harvest them yourself, this is the next best place.”
–Mark Bukowski, vice president, Working Ranch Cowboy Association 

Crab cakes in progress at Faidley's

Crab cakes in progress at Faidley’s

THE BEST CRAB CAKES IN BALTIMORE: Faidley’s
“If you’re going to have just one crab cake—ever—it’s Faidley’s at Lexington Market. When you’re looking at Faidley’s cakes, you see that big piece of crab right on the top. That’s what you’re looking for: that big, perfect lump of unbroken crab meat, not the burger-type patty. If you see a crab cake and it’s less than $7, don’t eat it, because what they did was use claw meat and other stuff, and mash it up. The best crab cake has as little filling as possible. It should have just enough breadcrumbs to hold it together with mayonnaise and mustard, and that’s it. You don’t put a lot of stuff in crab cakes. If you see green onions and stuff in there, just send it back and order something else.”
–Duff Goldman, owner and master cakesmith, Charm City Cakes; “Ace of Cakes” star

THE BEST PO’BOY IN NEW ORLEANS: Chicken Sue’s
“It’s out by the lakefront off the beaten path, a neighborhood place you wouldn’t find unless someone in the neighborhood sent you there. I love Ms. Sue: She and I became fast friends when I called and asked her what kind of mayo and bread she used. She gets to know her clients’ likes and dislikes, has great fried chicken and a super-messy roast beef po’boy that makes me smile; my husband likes the oyster po’boy.”
–Chef Amy Sins, owner, Langlois Culinary Crossroads cooking school; radio host, “The Chef Show”

THE BEST CUBAN SANDWICH IN MIAMI: El Rinconcito Latino
“Order the El Especial; it’s the best Cuban sandwich, bar-none.”
−Laz Arribas, first-generation Cuban American and lifelong Miamian

THE BEST PEACH PIE IN ATLANTA: Wrecking Bar Brewpub
“The chef is just awesome; he’ll put a peach in anything from sweet to savory, but you’ll want to go for his version of the classic: peaches and cream pie. We give them fresh, ripe peaches straight from the farm. It’s a classic peach pie: regular crust, a big peach filling, criss-crossed dough on top. They serve it with a little ice cream, and it’s absolutely delicious.”
–Will McGehee, fifth-generation peach farmer, Pearson Farm

THE BEST BARBECUE IN TEXAS: John Mueller Meat Co.
“I always look for all-pit barbecue, where they’ll just cook a whole bunch of meat and open the doors at 11 a.m. and go down the line and ask, ‘Who wants brisket?’ Then after this person in line it’s gone, then chicken’s gone after this person, ribs, sausage and so on. For your money’s worth, go to Mueller’s, just outside of Austin. It’s a real laid-back, Old Western-style place, and when you walk in you can just smell the barbecue that’s been in there for years and years and years. Whenever I try a piece of rib or brisket there, I think ‘Holy cow, how do I make mine like this?’ If they’re not real busy, they’ll show you what they do; it’s not a secret. But you still wonder, ‘How did they do that?’”
–Corey Nelson, owner, Cornel’s Brewing in Beaumont; chief cook, The Lonely Gringo competitive barbecue team

THE BEST CUP OF COFFEE IN SEATTLE: Green Bean Coffeehouse
“I am up at 4 a.m. before any shop is open, and on the air at 6 a.m. while others around Seattle wake up and enjoy the music while sipping on their favorite drink. I brew coffee here at the station and always enjoy that first cup as the show starts. But my all time favorite coffee drink/experience is right down the street from me, and part of it is sentimental. Two years ago, our little boy, Henry, was born, and after the dust settled and we were able to start getting out of the baby bunker, we stumbled upon Green Bean Coffeehouse in Greenwood. We ordered up our Hempmilk Lattes (we’re vegan) and sat down while our little one played at the train table; next to the double espressos we had in Paris a few years ago post-3 weeks off caffeine (never do that), that was the most delicious coffee drink I have ever had. It also turns out this little coffee house is all about community and helping nonprofits, so we were pretty happy to support it by going down there and ordering that same drink EVERY SINGLE TIME. If I could have any coffee drink at any time, it would be that one as not only is it amazing, but it reminds me of my family.”
–John Richards, morning show host, KEXP

Ned Devine's clam chowder

Ned Devine’s clam chowder

THE BEST CHOWDER IN BOSTON: Ned Devine’s
“Ned Devine’s has darn good chowder. They’re not the most original, but it was unexpected to me to find such good chowder in a place like that. It’s right in the middle of a historic area near Chinatown and near the State House, where a lot of tourists go. Chowder’s popular here because it was born here and made use of the local economy and foodstuffs… and it fits our bland New England palates! If I were to imagine the ideal bowl of chowder, it’s from the early chowder cooks who cooked with what they had on hand that day. It was much less based on the type of protein or even the vegetables. There are cooks experimenting with it and trying to show their culinary skill, but they’re sort of missing the point that chowder was a shipboard thing born of necessity.”
–Robert Cox, history professor, UMass; co-author, “A History of Chowder: Four Centuries of a New England Meal”

THE BEST CHEESE CURDS IN WISCONSIN: Wisconsin State Fair
“Fresh cheese curds have to squeak when you bite into them. Period. No squeak, no fun. As for fried cheese curds, I prefer a batter to a breading, and ranch to marinara for dipping. Right out of the fryer, they are crunchy and golden on the outside, and ooey, gooey, cheesy on the inside. Perfect with a beer. As a disclaimer, since I am a healthcare professional: Fried cheese in moderation, of course!”
–Micki Suworoff, cardiac nurse (and our photo editor’s cousin!)

THE BEST CHEESESTEAK IN PHILLY: Tommy DiNic’s
“They do a really good, non-traditional cheesesteak: Thin-sliced roast beef, provolone and no onions, which I’m OK with. And I don’t know what’s more Philadelphia than eating a cheesesteak in the Reading Terminal Market.”
–Bryan Mayer, co-owner, Kensington Quarters butchery/eatery

THE BEST GREEN JUICE IN L.A.: Punchbowl
“I like it green. I don’t like it fruity or sweet; I like to drink a juice and know that it’s doing something—shit’s happening; toxins are leaving my body. I like it natural and earthy, and they do it right.”
–McKenna Mendoza, model, actress and Pilates instructor

THE BEST CHICAGO DOG IN CHICAGO: Byron’s Hotdogs
“It’s the kind of place that’s always busy. There’s no fear that the hot dog’s been sitting in the water for six hours. Byron’s has all the atmosphere: You can sit outside or inside, and there’s all walks of life going through that place. One of the complaints I hear a lot about a Chicago-style hot dog is that it’s a big mess. And it is. It’s a big mess, and you should embrace it.”
–Rob Levitt, owner, The Butcher & Larder

THE BEST LOBSTER ROLL IN PORTLAND, MAINE: Fishermen’s Grill
“The Fishermen’s Grill is the hole-in-the-wall, quintessential, very simple and really hearty and satisfying lobster roll spot. They do huge, overflowing lobster rolls in the classic style. And it’s BYOB. It’s just down the street from RSVP, one of the oldest beer shops in Portland, so stop in there, or come back from Allagash with bottles.”
–Adam H. Callaghan, editor, Eater Maine

Ribs and rings at Joe's

Ribs and rings at Joe’s

THE BEST RIBS IN KANSAS CITY, MO: Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que
“The ribs are the best in town. They’ve just got it down to a science. You never catch them on an off day. A lot of novice barbecue people think the meat should just fall off the bone. Technically, that’s not a properly cooked rib: It should have a little bit of gnaw to it; you should have to work it a little.”
–Patrick Ryan, chef/owner, Port Fonda Mexican restaurant

THE BEST CHILE IN NEW MEXICO: Chope’s Bar & Cafe (green) & Cervantes (red)
“The official New Mexico state question is: Red or green chile? And while the official state vegetables are the pinto bean and the green chile—neither of which are actually vegetables—a lot of chilies aren’t from here; most hatch chiles are grown in Mexico.

I like two places that are really old-school: For green chile, I go south of Las Cruces in La Mesa to Chopes. I’ve never had better green chile than I’ve had there; I’d almost guarantee that it’s grown in New Mexico. The green chile stew, enchiladas and rellenos; it’s all great. And for red chile, I go to Cervantes in Albuquerque; they do incomparable red chile dishes, and one of the hotter red chiles in the city.

What makes a chile good? A lack of other ingredients! Why put cornstarch in green chile?! Chile is essentially a sauce that’s mostly used in combination with tortillas and cheese, so it doesn’t need further thickening. A typical chile contains chile, onion, a little oregano and minute amounts of other things. Whereas Tex-Mex cuisine is big on chile gravys, I like them pretty damn pure. If I’m going to make them, I use a little oil, the red chile, only a little spice. Alone, chiles are not that spicy, but when you reduce them down, the heat concentrates and it becomes spicy.”
–Dave DeWitt, the “Pope of Peppers”; co-author, “The Complete Chile Pepper Book” and many more

PLUS: THE BEST SEAFOOD ON SAN FRANCISCO’S FISHERMAN’S WHARF
You’ll find scores of tourists slurping clam chowder from sourdough bread bowls all along Fisherman’s Wharf, but before you join them, there’s something you need to know: It’s not exactly an authentic San Fran seafood experience. The clams in that soup were fished at least 500 miles away and probably arrived in cans from Vietnam. That’s according to Kirk Lombard, who currently runs a Bay Area sustainable seafood CSA called Sea Forager Seafood, and worked for seven years as a fisheries observer for the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. “I want you to know that you’re not eating San Francisco clams. No one farms Pacific coast littlenecks here; if you want to eat them you have to catch them in the wild, which you can do legally with a California Sport Fishing License.” Here’s your best bet for a fresh catch: From mid-November to February, most seafood spots on the wharf serve whole Dungeness crabs sourced right outside the Golden Gate Bridge. “During the season, you can get a locally caught Dungeness crab and support local fishermen,” Lombard says.

 

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5 Comments

  • Steven says:

    Concur about Wicked Spoon. A lot of folks like Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace, but I wasn’t impressed with it, probably because I like Wicked Spoon so much.

  • J.Ed says:

    Come to Rochester,NY for a Garbage Plate at Nick Tahous

  • Diane Glisczinski says:

    The Wisconsin State Fair has a lot of vendors selling cheese curds. Please be more specific.

  • Larry Otter says:

    On the Cheesesteak—–you go to DaNics for Roast Pork NOT a cheesesteak
    Suggest Jim’s at 4th and South for funky vibe, John’s Roast Pork for a cheesesteak made to order, Tony Luke’s on Oregon Ave near the I-95 Overpass. BTW, you have to have your cheesesteak WIT onions.

  • Trevor Hodgkins says:

    Regarding green chile, it’s against the law to call it “Hatch green chile” unless it’s actually grown in the Hatch valley of New Mexico. They may send the chile elsewhere to be processed, sure, but it has to be grown in Hatch, New Mexico to be labeled Hatch green chile. Same rules apply for general New Mexico green chiles. Can be processed elsewhere, but has to be grown in New Mexico. I’m a native of NM so this obviously near and dear to my heart. And taste buds. Viva!

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